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A great deal of the attraction of LAYOVER, David Bell’s newly published psychological thriller, is that so many readers will be able to relate to it. Oh, we would all like to be an ex-MP who wanders the country righting wrongs, or a craggy but sharp law enforcement officer in Louisiana or Southern California, but most of us don’t have the chops (or a prayer of acquiring them), so we live our dreams vicariously through the accounts of the fictitious lives of others. This book is just a bit different, given that it introduces a twenty-something businessman named Joshua Fields, who foolishly but understandably --- and vice-versa --- follows an impulse and ultimately finds himself as a result.

LAYOVER begins after a prologue in an airport, which makes sense, given that Joshua spends a lot of time there and on airplanes. He is logging frequent flyer miles on behalf of the real estate development company that he jointly runs with his father. It is clear almost from the start of the story that Joshua, who is not overly fond of flying, isn’t as enamored and enthusiastic with the business as his father seems to be. He is in an Atlanta airport bar, sipping some liquid courage with a Xanax chaser as preparation for a flight to Tampa, when he meets an intriguing woman who initially ignores him but then introduces herself as “Morgan.” He is attracted by her appearance, but she seems to be troubled as well.

"The strength of this thriller isn’t the number of times it makes your heart race, but rather the pitch-perfect way that Joshua is manipulated so realistically and so often."

As we learn over the course of the book, Joshua may be somewhat conflicted, but at his core he is a nice and caring guy who probably worries more about the well-being of others than he does for himself. He and Morgan share a couple of drinks while she talks and he listens. Right before she leaves, she gives him a kiss --- a deep one --- and tells him that they will never see each other again. That, alas, isn’t true.

Joshua is barely recovering from the kiss when he sees Morgan’s picture on television. It appears that she is considered to be a missing person. Joshua impulsively blows off the meeting he is supposed to attend in Florida and instead catches Morgan’s flight to Nashville. She is indeed on the plane, but nothing goes as expected. Morgan ends up yanking Joshua into a mystery in a small Kentucky town near the Tennessee border, where the head of the city’s major employer has gone missing, leaving his angry and dangerous brother out hunting for him and whoever caused him to vanish. A valuable ring also has disappeared.

Morgan is a former employee of the company, and a number of folks on both sides of the law are looking for her. Joshua is straddling the line, wondering how he got into the middle of this goat rodeo but not entirely sure how he can get himself out of it. There are any number of twists and turns that take place before he decides what to do, though whether he can follow through on what he wants may be out of his hands. You’ll have to read the book to find out.

The strength of this thriller isn’t the number of times it makes your heart race, but rather the pitch-perfect way that Joshua is manipulated so realistically and so often. The male members of the audience will shake their heads quietly but knowingly, while female readers will smile in the same fashion. LAYOVER is especially recommended if you’re traveling by plane this summer for business or pleasure. Keep your eyes open. You may see Joshua Fields or someone like him.

Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on July 3, 2019

by David Bell